The Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, the country’s formal consultative body, has approved a law to criminalize sexual harassment in the kingdom.
The aims of the measure are “fighting the crime of harassment, preventing it, punishing perpetrators and protecting victims in order to preserve the privacy, dignity and individual freedoms as guaranteed by Islamic jurisprudence and regulations in place”.
It was drafted by the Interior Ministry after instructions from King Salman, according to local media reports.
However, with men and women barred from intermingling in the strictly conservative Islamic kingdom, Saudis on social media have, largely, responded with humor.
The law provides for penalties of up to two years in prison and fines which could amount to $26,600 (£19,641). In some cases, such as repeat offenders, the sentence could be increased to five years in prison and fines of up to $80,000.
The bill, which preserves the anonymity of alleged victims, also criminalises incitement to sexual harassment, as well as falsely reporting an incident to the authorities.
It also stipulates alleged victims cannot withdraw a complaint or fail to report an incident to the police.
The document also creates an obligation for public and private institutions to make all necessary arrangements to prevent harassment.
Saudis took to Twitter with the Arabic hashtag “anti-harassment law”, using it over 29,200 times over the past few hours. The tone was mostly humorous as users tweeted self-deprecating jokes with the term “sorry girls”.
“I’m sorry girls. Do unfollow me please. Women followers are no longer welcome,” @fantasticSaeed tweeted.
Abdulrahman tweeted: “When they drafted the law, I remembered I don’t talk to girls in the first place.”
@majed_9_4 shared an animated video which shows a SWAT team storming a man’s flat after he mistakenly sends a heart emoji to a friend.
Ashwaq shared a comic strip showing a glum man telling a burly cellmate he was imprisoned for sending a heart emoji to a girl, shocking the hardened criminal.
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